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8:30 AM EST Wednesday, March 5, 2008: Auction Rate Preferreds -- see below. Tell your friends
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The stockmarket continues its decline. As I said in November, the market is not the place to be at present, except for occasional "punts" -- like silver, gold, select mining stocks, and some commodities. This is what the market has looked like since November -- a classic bear market:

How long will this decline continue? I suspect it will decline for the rest of this year, at the very least. Why?

Stephen Roach is the talented and respected chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia. He wrote this piece for today's New York Times:

Double Bubble Trouble

AMID increasingly turbulent credit markets and ever-weaker reports on the economy, the Federal Reserve has been unusually swift and determined in its lowering of the overnight lending rate. The White House and Congress have moved quickly as well, approving rebates for families and tax breaks for businesses. And more monetary easing from the Fed could well be on the way.

The central question for the economy is this: Will this medicine work? The same question was asked repeatedly in Japan during its “lost decade” of the 1990s. Unfortunately, as was the case in Japan, the answer may be no.

If the American economy were entering a standard cyclical downturn, there would be good reason to believe that a timely countercyclical stimulus like that devised by Washington would be effective. But this is not a standard cyclical downturn. It is a post-bubble recession.

The United States is now going through its second post-bubble downturn in seven years. Yet this one stands in sharp contrast to the post-bubble shakeout in the stock market during 2000 and 2001. Back then, there was a collapse in business capital spending, a sector that peaked at only 13 percent of real gross domestic product.

The current recession has been set off by the simultaneous bursting of property and credit bubbles. The unwinding of these excesses is likely to exact a lasting toll on both homebuilders and American consumers. Those two economic sectors collectively peaked at 78 percent of gross domestic product, or fully six times the share of the sector that pushed the country into recession seven years ago.

For asset-dependent, bubble-prone economies, a cyclical recovery — even when assisted by aggressive monetary and fiscal accommodation — isn’t a given. Over the past six years, income-short consumers made up for the weak increases in their paychecks by extracting equity from the housing bubble through cut-rate borrowing that was subsidized by the credit bubble. That game is now over.

Washington policymakers may not be able to arrest this post-bubble downturn. Interest rate cuts are unlikely to halt the decline in nationwide home prices. Given the outsize imbalance between supply and demand for new homes, housing prices may need to fall an additional 20 percent to clear the market.

Aggressive interest rate cuts have not done much to contain the lethal contagion spreading in credit and capital markets. Now that their houses are worth less and loans are harder to come by, hard-pressed consumers are unlikely to be helped by lower interest rates.

Japan’s experience demonstrates how difficult it may be for traditional policies to ignite recovery after a bubble. In the early 1990s, Japan’s property and stock market bubbles burst. That implosion was worsened by a banking crisis and excess corporate debt. Nearly 20 years later, Japan is still struggling.

There are eerie similarities between the United States now and Japan then. The Bank of Japan ran an excessively accommodative monetary policy for most of the 1980s. In the United States, the Federal Reserve did the same thing beginning in the late 1990s. In both cases, loose money fueled liquidity booms that led to major bubbles.

Moreover, Japan’s central bank initially denied the perils caused by the bubbles. Similarly, it’s hard to forget the Fed’s blasé approach to the asset bubbles of the past decade, especially as the subprime mortgage crisis exploded last August.

In Japan, a banking crisis constricted lending for years. In the United States, a full-blown credit crisis could do the same.

The unwinding of excessive corporate indebtedness in Japan and a “kereitsu” culture of companies buying one another’s equity shares put extraordinary pressures on business spending. In America, an excess of household indebtedness could put equally serious and lasting restrictions on consumer spending.

Like their counterparts in Japan in the 1990s, American authorities may be deluding themselves into believing they can forestall the endgame of post-bubble adjustments. Government aid is being aimed, mistakenly, at maintaining unsustainably high rates of personal consumption. Yet that’s precisely what got the United States into this mess in the first place — pushing down the savings rate, fostering a huge trade deficit and stretching consumers to take on an untenable amount of debt.

A more effective strategy would be to try to tilt the economy away from consumption and toward exports and long-needed investments in infrastructure.

That won’t be easy to achieve. Such a shift in the mix of the economy will require export-friendly measures like a weaker dollar and increased consumption by the rest of the world, which would strengthen demand for American-made goods. Fiscal initiatives should be directed at laying the groundwork for future growth, especially by upgrading the nation’s antiquated highways, bridges and ports.

That’s not to say Washington shouldn’t help the innocent victims of the bubble’s aftermath — especially lower- and middle-income families. But the emphasis should be on providing income support for those who have been blindsided by this credit crisis rather than on rekindling excess spending by overextended consumers.

By focusing on exports and on infrastructure spending, we might be able to limit the recession. Such an approach might also set the stage for a more balanced and sustainable economic upturn in the next cycle. A stimulus package aimed at exports and infrastructure investment would be an important step in that direction.

The toughest, and potentially most relevant, lesson to take from Japan’s economy in the 1990s was that the interplay between financial and real economic bubbles causes serious damage. An equally lethal interplay between the bursting of housing and credit bubbles is now at work in the United States.

American authorities, especially Federal Reserve officials, harbor the mistaken belief that swift action can forestall a Japan-like collapse. The greater imperative is to avoid toxic asset bubbles in the first place. Steeped in denial and engulfed by election-year myopia, Washington remains oblivious of the dangers ahead.

Update on Auction Rate Preferreds (ARPS): Everyone keeps intoning that it's a liquidity issue, not a credit one. That means in English there's good asset backing for your ARPS. You just can't sell them.

Wall Street has truly surpassed itself with this mess.

Eaton Vance speaks the same unhelpful nonsense on ARPS. Eaton Vance had a conference call yesterday on auction rate preferreds (ARPS). Summary:

1. No quick fix.

2. Who knows how long it will take. Maybe forever.

3. Can't "deleverage" (i.e. sell muni bonds and redeem ARPS) since that would hurt Eaton Vance equity owners. This would not be a "win-win" situation.

4. There is no secondary market for ARPS. Hence you can't sell your holdings. ("And we don't care if one is ever developed" was the impression Eaton Vance management gave).

5. Eaton Vance management is working hard. Why, one day, they even worked "well into the evening." (I kid you not. They actually said this.)

6. They're working to get money market funds to be able to buy ARPS. Need laws and rules changed. Sounds like a long shot, to me.

7. They gave no deadlines, no time frames. Only definite thing: another conference call next Friday. (Whoopee.)

Overall impression: Eaton Vance management hasn't yet got the message their future is at stake. No one will ever deal with Eaton Vance again if they don't resolve this issue.

You can listen to a replay of the conference on 1-800-642-1687. Access code 37152796. You won't be impressed.

Action point: Get your broker to write Eaton Vance chairman and CEO, Thomas E. Faust, Jr. and explain that your broker won't ever do business again with Eaton Vance if Faust doesn't fix the auction rate preferreds disaster. This is Mr. Faust. He looks caring.

Mr. Faust ( was not on yesterday's conference call. He should have been. Faust's phone number is 800-225-6265 ext 8201. His executive assistant is Kelly Creedon. Eaton Vance's address is 255 State Street, Boston, MA 02109.

Auction-Rate Bond Failures Approach 70%, Show No Sign of Easing. Bloomberg's Michael McDonald has a excellent piece today with this heading today. The story is about single issuer munis -- e.g. The Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego and the New York Dormitory Authority. Click here. You can now reach this site by punching in

The Jews and $100 a barrel oil
Moses to God; "Just let me get this straight. They get the oil and we get to cut off half our what?"

Jewish arithmetic:
Jewish New Year 5768.
Chinese New Year 4706.
Hence, 1062 is number of years the Jewish nation waited for Chinese food.

Jewish nuclear devastation:
Man emerges from ashes, spies woman, hands her an apple.

"Would you like a bite?"he asks.

"Please," she replies, "let's not start this nonsense again.

Jewish orgasms:
He: "You never tell me when you have an orgasm."

She: "You're never there."

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads on this site. Thus I cannot endorse, though some look interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Michael's business school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.

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